Last time I visited my childhood home, my mom set out several jewelry pieces from my grandmother she wanted me to have. A simple gold wedding band was among them. It appeared slightly weathered, but it fit my finger as though it was custom made for me. There was an inscription inside: “RE to GA Dec 29 – 1910.” I knew right away who it belonged to: RE was my great-grandfather, GA was my great-grandmother.
They were married on a Thursday, like me. I don’t know how they met or what their relationship story was. I have pictures of them with beautiful smiling faces, they look so happy together. I have pictures of her with the ring. It’s hard to make out, but I can see it. This union produced one of my all-time favorite people: my grandmother.
If only that ring could speak!
I’m sure it’d tell me of the giddiness of January 1911, every time she glanced at her left hand: I’m married! Women didn’t have many rights back then, marriage was a step-up for her. Despite the typically scripted quiet and obedient wife of the time, my great-grandmother was kind, sweet, and quite the firecracker. She was fierce as much as she was loving.
I wonder if the ring stayed on her finger during her pregnancies, or if the swelling became too much and it was left in the drawer. I wonder too, what the ring would say to the arguments the neighbors undoubtedly heard: my great-grandfather was a drunk, especially during Prohibition (our family never was one for timing….). When he was sober, he was a quiet, kind man. When he was drunk, he would chase my great-grandmother around the kitchen table with a butcher knife, transforming into a monster. I bet that ring felt awfully heavy in those moments.
It was common in such events, when he was drunk and violent, that my great-grandmother would lock herself and the three girls in the bedroom until he passed out. Then they would board a streetcar and go to her mother’s house, even in the dead of a cold Detroit winter night. I wonder if she absentmindedly fidgeted with the ring, as she stared off into space on the streetcar; fighting tears, trying to be strong for her girls, and figuring out her next move. I wonder if she took off the ring for a time, carefully considering if she’d put it on again.
Nearly 17 years after the band of gold was placed on her left ring finger, she filed for divorce and it was granted. She was kicked out of her church because of the divorce. My great-grandmother took things into her own hands by working the assembly line at Dodge to provide for her daughters, despite the small alimony check; she was a welder. The family lived with her widowed mother.
She had a handy man come to the house to do some odd jobs; they fell in love and married. This man (my great-stepgrandfather!) was a WWI veteran and beautiful soul who was always smiling. They stayed happily together until she died in the early 1960’s.
I wonder where the ring spent all those years.
And now it has come me. I wear it on my right hand. It’s a perfect everyday ring, as I don’t have to worry about losing heirloom diamonds at work. It’s sturdy, and in the quiet moments of work I find myself staring at the inscription.
The three girls from this marriage all died old women. Their children are senior citizens. These people are lost to time, only existing in stories and the random documents I’m able to unearth.
And all that remains is this ring of gold, to mark a family united and torn apart. It is a link of my ancestral past, which will always be near and dear to me.